Dante Williams was born and raised in the Stop Six neighborhood. He’s raising his family there now, and it’s the community he cares about.
When he saw most of those attending town halls or other events in his neighborhood were mostly women, he decided it was time for more men to get involved.
With that focus, Community Frontline was born in 2016, as the nation reckoned with the killing of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and other unarmed Black men by police, and the murders of five Dallas police officers. He and a group of men decided to get together to improve the city and be part of the solution before a similar incident happened in Fort Worth.
The nonprofit organization focuses on four pillars: city beautification, community and police relationships, racial issues and education.
The first meeting was a success, attracting about 70 and 80 men of all backgrounds who were concerned about what to do moving forward, he said.
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“It really just started out of concern for the community,” Williams, 38, said. “We started trying to help men find their place.”
Because Williams and his friends grew up in Stop Six, he said he and his generation have pride in the community. Some of the younger generation is missing that same pride and love for the neighborhood and Dunbar High School, he said. He hopes to reinstill some of that pride.
Community Frontline helps men get plugged into community events and work with other organizations in the city as well, Williams said.
Ben Travis, who served on the Community Frontline board and volunteers with the organization, said Williams has been a mentor to him for about six years now while he’s worked with the group.
During his time with Community Frontline, Travis said he’s watched Williams navigate some difficult conversations with the city or other organizations. He also saw Williams lead the group while running a business and raising a family, a balancing act he respects.
“I really see him as someone that has a unique eye for finding the — not just surface level problem like there’s potholes in the streets — but digging way beneath that, and seeing how we can affect more sustainable and meaningful change,” Travis said. “And that’s kind of my view of him — he’s helping in a way that will ultimately benefit over the long haul and not just making these sort of grandstand kind of moments where he’s like having a big concert or a band or something like that, but there’s no real substance behind it.”
In 2018, two years after starting Community Frontline, Williams formed his company DIG Contracting after leaving a position that required him to do jobs he did not believe in.
Williams did not want to be part of building an ICE detention center or a jail. It “didn’t sit right” with him considering the work he was doing in his community, he said. He also was dealing with racism in the industry.
He was met with disbelief from supervisors when he was a project manager on a job and often was the only Black man, he said. Williams dealt with a lot of disrespect in those positions, he said. When bringing these issues up to leadership in the company, he was told to “turn the other cheek.”
Those experiences reflect the work Community Frontline is trying to solve by looking at and addressing racism in the community.
“We don’t want to be kind of high in the sky, sitting up on this throne, saying, ‘We want to fix our issues,’ and never address the issues,” he said. “We’re kind of boots on the ground looking at what’s happening and what’s really going on — and talking and getting with the people. I think that’s key, and then bringing resources into the community.”
While addressing police and community relations, Williams said, a lot of the work involves recognizing that some communities don’t feel safe around police in the way others do.
“Understanding that dynamic and understanding there’s a place and there are things that can be done right now to help change what that looks like and how Black and brown people are treated when it comes to police here in the city of Fort Worth,” he said.
Some of those solutions include changes in training. Police are bringing in community members to the training to have a real dialogue about police in communities, he said.
But there’s much more to be done before police can be in Black and brown communities in a safe and fair way, he said.
“There’s just too much polarization happening on either side where there’s too much harm that’s been done and not enough people willing to come to the table and say, ‘We’re wrong, we’re sorry and we want to fix it,’” Williams said. “So even if the police chief is saying those things, you’ve got a department of over 1,700 people who don’t feel that same way.”
Some of that polarization could impact the murder trial of Aaron Dean, the Fort Worth police officer charged with killing Atatiana Jefferson in October 2019, he said. Jefferson was babysitting her nephew the night she was killed. The trial date is set for Nov. 16.
No matter what the outcome is, Williams said, all sides will have a strong reaction.
“Whichever way it goes, (people) just have to have the space to be able to go out and express themselves either way, within the confines of the law,” he said. “I think it could go either way — it’s going to be a protest or celebration.”
As the trial approaches, Williams said, it’s important for city officials to keep it and Jefferson’s family on people’s minds.
The family still needs help, he said, and the community should support the nonprofit organization The Atatiana Project or Jefferson’s nephew, Zion Carr, who witnessed his aunt’s killing, as he goes through counseling.
A community of people has been hurt and not seen justice, Williams said. And some can forgive but will never forget.
“I know there are people who want to see the police completely gone and wiped out and not in the communities or not exist at all,” he said. “I don’t see that happening either, because we’re far too long down the road in America, to where police, it’s a need for some people, that’s the thing.”
But he believes work like what Frontline is doing can empower communities to take care of themselves, he said.
“I think we can self-police ourselves. I think we can set ourselves to a certain standard and not have to have as much policing and law in our community,” Williams said.
Community Frontline has conversations bringing people from all backgrounds together to talk about race, Williams said. The discussions look at experiences of different people and how to tackle racism in the city.
Those can be solutions with policies aimed at schools, city government, or just how to treat others, he said. For example, the group encourages supporting eastside businesses, such as Black Coffee, to keep the community strong and show “it’s OK to live on the east side.”
The nonprofit also hosts events like movie nights and community cleanup, he said. It is about being inclusive and bringing the community together in Stop Six, versus having to go to a different part of the city for similar events.
During the pandemic, Williams said, Community Frontline has helped people with rental assistance, groceries and other needs. It also helped small businesses with grants. During the winter freeze last year, the group repaired pipes, did other home repairs and assisted with groceries for neighbors.
The work can take a personal toll. In 2018, Williams had to go to the emergency room, where doctors discovered two blood clots near his heart.
Doctors told him he should not have been able to walk into the hospital — he should have been unconscious or dead.
The doctors said the clots stopped before getting to his heart, but it prompted a serious conversation between Williams and his wife.
“Ultimately, we decided to came out of that deal like, yeah, this would be the year for me to really start enter and answer some things that we’ve said we’re going to do,” Williams said.
That year, his wife got pregnant with their fourth child and son, he said. And his company DIG Contracting was born.
Now his company is thriving and has done several jobs, Williams said. Some partners include YMCA, Dunkin’ Donuts and Dallas County. The pandemic slowed business significantly, but he said the company has maintained and is doing well.
He focuses on hiring people from the community, including high school and college interns, he said.
All of these efforts have led to his rise as a leader in Fort Worth. Good leaders pick up the slack when someone needs to step up and do so, he said.
“It’s just doing the work in a real sense, because a lot of times there’s a lot of just wordplay,” he said. “A lot of quote, unquote, leaders have the the gift of gab, to be able to kind of sell you on whatever it is they’re selling you on, but it’s more so just doing the work behind the scenes.”
The Rev. Rodney McIntosh, who also grew up in Stop Six, knows Williams through his work in the community. McIntosh is a pastor at Christ the Risen King Church in Fort Worth and runs the VIP FW program, which works to decrease violence in neighborhoods.
From the moment he met Williams, McIntosh said, he saw him as the kind of person who will step up and lead without looking for recognition or accolades.
And his willingness to step up and lead is benefitting the city, McIntosh said, and only will continue to benefit Fort Worth.
“He’s somebody that’s going to stand up for what’s right,” McIntosh said. “One thing that I love about him is, if it’s right, then he’ll speak up for it, and if it’s wrong, he’ll speak out against it. And I think, this city is lacking like people that truly lead off their convictions. So many people either have a bias, or they just try to appease the people. I’ve been in some rooms with him where we’ve had serious conversations with leaders in industry, and he stood for what he believed was right and he stood up for other people.”
There is a lot of change happening in the city, Williams said.
“The city of Fort Worth has had a lot of Old Guard who’ve done some really good things, depending on where you’re from, where you’re at, your perspective,” he said. “But they’ve also left a lot of stuff on the table that needs to be changed.”
He sees a younger City Council and other new leaders willing to take more risks to move the city forward.
“I think that’s the biggest change I see is that you’re going to have to find a new way to engage people and to engage differently,” Williams said. “Fort Worth is becoming majority-minority city and what does that mean? What does that look like and as, Black and brown people begin to continue to organize, get more voices and be strategic on how they move and operate the city. Leadership will continue to talk, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Dante Williams Bio
Birthplace: Fort Worth
Family: Married to Francelia Williams, with four children, Zoe, Naomi, Draya and Cairo.
Education: Dunbar High School and Prairie View A&M University, bachelor’s in construction science
Work experience: Rogers-O’Brien, quality manager/project manager, SEDALCO, project manager and Con-Real, senior project manager; started DIG Contracting in 2018
Volunteer experience: President of Community Frontline of Fort Worth, commissioner for the City of Fort Worth Human Relations Commission, board member of the Regional Black Contractors Association, coach for Fort Worth Outlaws Track Club, past executive committee member and PAC Chair for Fort Worth/Tarrant County NAACP, past member of the city of Fort Worth Community Development Council Board.
First job: Burger King
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Lead as you learn because you are already a leader and don’t be concerned with being labeled a “leader.”
Best advice ever received: Don’t get weary in well doing.
Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.